One of the first megastars of modern American sports, Babe Ruth helped usher in the Roaring Twenties with his seemingly superhuman athletic abilities and outsized personality. He made good on a promise to hit a home run for a sick child. He allegedly pointed to a spot in the stands and then launched a home run to that very spot. He partied hard, ignored team rules, hobnobbed with movie stars and called everybody “Doc” or “Kid” in lieu of remembering names.
The Babe’s fast-living eventually caught up with him, leading to the cancer-stricken home run hero saying goodbye to Yankee Stadium fans on April 27, 1947, before his death the following year at age 53. Here are five little-known facts about the most celebrated player in baseball history:
He trained to become a tailor
The son of a saloon owner in a seedy section of Baltimore, Ruth was sent to the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys at age 7 to keep him out of trouble. He developed his formidable baseball skills at St. Mary’s, playing upwards of 200 games per year between classes, but the no-nonsense Catholic monks in charge required each boarder to learn a useful vocation. The Babe displayed a talent for shirt making, and he was good enough to earn an apprenticeship at a tailor shop located in the school’s laundry building. Of course, he was better at throwing and blasting a baseball to the high heavens, so when he left St. Mary’s for good in 1914, it was to join the minor leagues.
He spoke German
Both Ruth’s father and mother both had German roots, and as a kid, he was surrounded by his Pennsylvania Dutch paternal grandparents, so he was immersed in the language at an early age. In his seminal 1974 biography Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, Robert Creamer related a tale of how baseball historian Fred Lieb once attempted to converse in German with New York Yankees co-star Lou Gehrig, only to find Ruth continually butting in.
Babe Ruth about to swipe at a huge ball in 1927
Photo: Getty Images
He had an unusual method for keeping cool
Professional baseball uniforms were made of wool until the 1940s, rendering most players a sweaty, wobbly mess during the midsummer months. As such, Ruth introduced to his teammates an unusual technique for keeping cool: He pried the leaves off a head of cabbage and spread them over the ice in a cooler, and when they were sufficiently chilled, a leaf under the cap would supply much-needed relief for a few innings before needing to be replaced. A large man with an extra-large noggin, Ruth was said to require two leaves for the method to be fully effective.
He joined the New York National Guard
Inspired by a membership drive, a patriotic Ruth enlisted in the 104th Field Artillery Regiment of the New York National Guard in May 1924. As with most public activities involving the home run king, a huge crowd showed up to Times Square to witness his official swearing-in by Colonel James Austin, and he was later photographed offering his best salute to General John Joseph Pershing. Of course, Ruth’s enlistment was purely symbolic; he continued to play baseball and saw zero combat action during his three years in the National Guard.
He was the subject of a Japanese war cry
Although he had headlined a hugely popular Asian tour of American All-Stars in 1934, Ruth was the sworn enemy of Japanese soldiers during World War II. This came to light in a March 1944 article of The New York Times, which reported that the Japanese shouted some variation of “To hell with Babe Ruth!” during fighting in the South Pacific. Ruth replied with his typically colorful language about how the Japanese should all be killed, and he spent the following day helping with a Red Cross fundraising drive. The American military brain trust reportedly considered a strategy in which Ruth would broadcast messages asking for a peaceful surrender over Japanese airwaves, but the plan was never enacted.